Thursday, December 12, 2013

He Hears, and He Answers.

"When Jesus restores such a loss, He gives a fulfillment that is a 
little bit of heaven - a peace that passes all understanding. 
From our side it is only necessary to surrender." 
~ Corrie ten Boom

Hope is found in the little things. Life is turned upside down, earth-shattering events and circumstances stab mercilessly, senselessly; yet the tiniest whisper of a prayer is answered with the assurance that He hears me. I do not cry aloud to empty air. The God who spun the universe out of nothing counts the hairs of my head; catches the tiniest sparrow before it falls to the ground. He feels the unspoken longings in my heart, and He answers. Always, He answers.

Days after we heard the news of our sweet baby's death, my kitty and faithful companion for 12 years had to be put down. We didn't know what was wrong with her, couldn't fix her, had done all we could. As I tore her paws from around my neck (literally), forced her into a white box and surrendered her to the anesthesia technician, I had just one brokenhearted thought: Maybe someone will see her and love her and not want to kill her. A few days later we got a phone call. The vet at the shelter had seen kitty, taken pity on her and wanted our permission to treat her. She was still alive! After a week of unsuccessful treatment Tigger was put to sleep, but my grieving heart was calmed. The Lord had heard my prayer, had sent someone to have mercy on my kitty and try to do what I couldn't. I was at peace knowing that she really was sick beyond repair and I wasn't a horrible kitty parent for putting her down.

He cares for the sparrows. He cared for Tigger. He cared for my aunt's chicken who wandered off in 10 inches of snow and, miraculously, was found alive and well the next day. He cared for my tiny baby and for me; while Hope was not granted life, He answered my prayers for a natural and uncomplicated delivery at home - even when doctors told me I was insane for waiting indefinitely and not taking surgical or medical action.

This has been a year of disappointed dreams. We are in a new house, in a new place, searching for a new church, with job uncertainty and future uncertainty and so far away from the people we love. Our baby is gone, our kitty is gone, and once more Nathan faces the grad school application process and hopes for a better result. As I think of how we had wanted things to be right now, I am reminded that not a single prayer of ours has gone unanswered. So often we define God's nearness, His goodness, by our version of what we want - how we think He should intervene. When we get what we want, God is good! He loves us! When life appears to be spinning out of control, the rug of security is ripped out from under us and suddenly we are tormented with questions of all we ever believed in. Where is God? Why doesn't He answer us? If He were good, wouldn't He step in and stop this?

I look back over this past year and am reminded that God ALWAYS hears. He ALWAYS answers. He is a near and present help in trouble. He may not answer in the way we hoped, but that answer is simply "no" - it is never no answer at all. This year I have had to surrender so much - even having a "right" to know why God did what He did. All I can do is trust. And rest. I am safe in the arms of my Shepherd; no matter what storms are thrown at me, He WILL carry me through. "When He has brought out all His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice." We hear His voice. We follow the path laid out for us through gentle, guiding "yes's" and "no's." We lay down our insistence to understand. And we are at peace.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

He Makes All Things New

   "May the God of hope fill you with all joy
and peace as you trust in Him."
~Romans 15:13

  This morning I laid out Christmas dishes for two. I looked at Facebook posts of friends posing in the snow with pregnant bellies and radiant mommy smiles. I saw the holiday tribute to our little one, Hope, on the mantle surrounded by twinkling lights and holly. My heart sank, and I felt no hope. This is a Christmas season that I looked forward to with such anticipation – not only because it is my very favorite time of the year, but because I fully expected to be one of those glowing mamas-to-be standing under falling snow, bursting with a dazzling joy.The tree is up, holiday baking complete, presents bought, decorations out in full array. And my belly is empty. We buried our baby after 16 weeks of waiting, hoping, pleading for a miracle. It is hard to go through the motions of Christmas cheer. Hard to find joy when my longed-for little one lies under a tree in my back yard. Hard to give freely when inside I feel empty, and broken.
     This morning I sat down to my quiet time. I opened to my bookmark for today’s assigned reading, Psalm 103. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”
     In the face of grief and disappointment, giving thanks feels shallow, and forced. I try to be grateful for what we do have, then wonder if it somehow “doesn’t count” because I don’t feel grateful. I don’t feel contented or joyful. But the list in Psalm 103 is not contingent on feelings. Whether or not I “feel” the weightiness of these truths does not affect the fact that they are TRUE. The Lord has forgiven me of all my sins. He healed me from all miscarriage complications (a testimony in and of itself), He has redeemed me, set me apart for Himself, sealed me with His love and mercy, given me everything that is good in Himself. He is merciful and gracious. He does not treat me as my sins deserve. He is compassionate, and present. He hears every longing cry. The Lord does not promise to fulfill our desires with things, or circumstances, or relationships. If He did, we would have little reason to cling to Him every moment.
     In this season of emptiness I am reminded that I have all I need in Christ. My greatest need has already been atoned for, and on this earth I am simply passing through to a place where indescribable glory awaits. “This slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” Belonging to Christ is truly the only way that I can survive in a broken, grief-stricken world. Without the hope of eternity suffering is senseless. It is only in looking at tragedy through an eternal lens – this is not how it was meant to be, but someday all will be well – that I can lift my head from the grave of my baby and worship the God who has ultimately conquered death.
     This Christmas season, the gospel has taken on a new meaning for me. All I have is Christ. In the words of Noel Piper, “the reason for Christmas is the same as it ever was, and nothing is more essential to our lives than the incarnation. Trees are nothing. Feasts are nothing. Lights are nothing. Music is nothing. Only Jesus matters. Every day I fight to cling to my Savior. I long for heaven, where Hope is waiting for us, whole and perfect. Even now I am filled with joy as I think of these two things: Jesus, and heaven! What more could we want or need? Anything else is an undeserved gift that was never meant to distract us from the Giver, but to bring us more deeply into relationship and dependence on Him. It is only through Him that we have Christmas, the day that our souls’ most poignant need was satisfied, completely, forever. And so, truly, Merry Christmas. This season we rejoice in a God who makes all things new.